January 2019

Even after 28 Strictly Business Forums I have to confess I still look forward to the annual event. The energy in the room is always contagious and a commitment to making the North Country a good place to live and work can be found with every participant.

During the Forum I move from table to table so I have a good feel for the mood of the crowd. Here are some of my takeaways from our 29th SB Forum.

While much of the discussions revolved around our historically low unemployment rate and what businesses need to do to recruit and retain employees, no one seemed alarmed. David Coryer spoke passionately about RAMP, a new program Coryer Staffing has implemented to integrate young people into the North Country workforce. Linda Bourgeois explained a mentoring program Ufirst has initiated and Deena Giltz McCullough talked about Northern Insuring’s commitment to hire millennials. Julie Kramer of Nine Platt Hospitality Group voiced concern about an aging workforce but was optimistic about our ability to meet the challenge.

State and national issues impacted the North Country business community in a variety of ways in 2018. Jackie Kelleher’s law practice was affected by the #MeToo movement. Jim Holmes dealt with tax law changes and Garry Douglas grappled with the impact of acrimonious NAFTA negotiations.

Information about challenges and opportunities came from a variety of participants. Michelle LeBeau, the new president of CVPH, spoke about changes in health care on a macro level while Dr. Kris Ambler addressed issues facing independent medical practitioners. Terry Wiley was pleased to reveal SterRx’s plans to introduce a new product in early 2019. Bob Ross proudly shared details of new construction and programs at St. Joseph’s Recovery Center. Scott McNulty gave us a preview of things to come at Norsk Titanium and Bob Garcia, the new Executive Director of the Strand Center for the Arts, offered a look at plans for expanded programming in the new year. Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read was candid about the issues confronting the city.

Richelle Gregory, Clinton County Director of Community Services, and Ken Parkinson and Mike Carpenter, representing the MHAB Project, discussed the influence the opioid epidemic is having on the North Country. The three expressed enthusiasm for the impact MHAB is expected to have when it opens in early 2019, to offer housing and life skills education for people dealing with addiction issues.

Chamber President Garry Douglas offered the Forum wrap up by emphasizing that success is driven by will and determination, two characteristics that have been in abundant supply in this area since the closure of Plattsburgh Air Force Base in 1995. He pointed to current indicators of that success in our low unemployment rate, growth in our manufacturing base, the attraction of Norsk Titanium, efforts toward downtown Plattsburgh revitalization, and United Express air service at Plattsburgh International Airport. “None of these things just happened,” he emphasized. “None was ‘gifted’ to us without our earning it. But success brings its own challenges and must be defended. We cannot solve every problem that comes our way but we can resolve to maximize our efforts and make multiple gains at the margins. We are determined to be the Masters of Our Fate!”

Participants at this year’s Strictly Business Forum were proud of what has been accomplished, guardedly optimistic about the future and committed to do the hard work to make good things happen.

… and that’s good for business.